A few weeks ago, we posted information on this blog about our Special Agents and the work they do, from investigating Social Security fraud to protecting SSA employees from physical violence. Shortly after posting this, media reports questioned our acquisition of ammunition for the training and safety of our Agents. The comments on this blog have been voluminous, and most have been supportive of our work, and for that we wanted to thank you. Some comments and media reports, however, suggest a degree of skepticism about the role of an OIG Special Agent, and we thought we’d address that here, as part of this dialogue.
Several comments, and even Jay Leno’s monologue, mentioned investigating seniors, and the limited danger that might present. The point is well-taken, but off the mark. Only about 15 percent of our investigations involve SSA’s retirement programs, while almost 80 percent involve the disability programs. People who defraud these programs come in all ages, and none of them wants to be arrested. What’s more, SSA employs over 60,000 people, and the OIG has no higher priority than protecting them and ensuring the safety of their workplaces. Our office received over 1,100 threats against SSA personnel and offices last year.
One media report referred to us and other OIGs as “obscure” Federal agencies. Given that the Inspector General Act was signed by President Carter almost 35 years ago, and given how often you see an Inspector General in the news, our existence is hardly a well-kept secret. Inspectors General oversee the operations of more than 70 Federal entities, and the Council of Inspectors General reported last year that their combined efforts saved the taxpayers some $180 billion and resulted in over 6,000 criminal prosecutions. The SSA OIG is among the Federal government’s largest, busiest, and most productive, with over 1,300 of those criminal prosecutions and nearly 600 arrests.
Multiple comments and reports suggest that IG Special Agents don’t need to be armed and trained like "traditional" Federal law enforcement agents. The writers of those reports have clearly never had to go into the places IG Agents go, or do the things they do. The SSA OIG has been fortunate in that, although our agents have been fired upon, none of our agents has ever been killed or seriously wounded in the line of duty. Not all OIGs have been as fortunate. The highest award bestowed by the Council of Inspectors General is the Buddy Sentner Memorial Award, named for a Department of Justice OIG Special Agent shot and killed despite returning fire, while investigating wrongdoing by a Bureau of Prisons employee.
And just last year, a Social Security employee was shot by a man who then fled, heavily armed, into the mountains of Kentucky. A standoff ensued between the assailant and our Agents, along with other Federal and State authorities. We ultimately arrested him without a shot being fired, and he was charged with attempted murder.
Every day, our Agents go into the same dangerous places and confront the same potentially violent people as any other police officer or Federal agent. They are subject to the same physical fitness requirements and firearms training requirements. The authority to use deadly force is not something they take lightly, nor did Congress take it lightly when it granted that authority. But it is our duty to our Agents and their families to train and equip them to do the job they’ve been given. We appreciate the support you’ve given us, and them, as this story has developed, and we’ll continue to work hard to protect the Social Security Administration’s programs, and its employees, every day.